Heritage Locations

Dent Head and Arten Gill Viaducts

Two of the most impressive structures on the Settle and Carlisle line, both are scheduled Ancient Monuments and are located between Dent Station and Blea Moor Tunnel, the longest on the line.


Period of construction:
1850 - 1899

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:

Dent Station, LA10 5RF

LA10 5RF

Nearest Town:
Hawes (12 miles)

Heritage Centre:

The Settle & Carlisle Railway had its origins in railway politics; the expansion-minded Midland Railway company was locked in dispute with the rival London and North Western Railway over access rights to the latter's tracks to Scotland.

The Midland's existing access to Scotland was via the so-called 'Little North Western' route to Ingleton. The tracks from there on to Low Gill where they joined the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway fell under the control of the rival LNWR. Initially the two routes, although physically connected at Ingleton, were not logically connected, as the LNWR and Midland could not agree on sharing the use of Ingleton station. Instead the LNWR terminated its trains at a separate station at the opposite end of Ingleton viaduct, and Midland Railway passengers had to change into LNWR trains by means of a walk of about a mile over steep gradients between the two stations.

Eventually an agreement was reached over station access, enabling the Midland to attach through carriages to LNWR trains at Ingleton. Passengers could now continue their journey north without leaving the train. But the situation was still far from ideal, as the LNWR would handle the through carriages of its rival with deliberate obstructiveness, for example attaching the through coaches to slow freight trains instead of to fast passenger workings.

Eventually the Midland board decided that the only solution was their own route to Scotland. Surveying began in 1865, and in June 1866, Parliamentary approval was given to the Midland's plan. Soon after, however, the Overend-Gurney banking failure sparked a financial crisis in the UK. Interest rates rose sharply, several railways went bankrupt and the Midland's board, prompted by a shareholders' revolt, began to have second thoughts about a venture where the estimated cost was £2.3m. As a result, in April 1869, with no work yet started, the company petitioned Parliament to abandon the scheme it had earlier fought for. However Parliament, under pressure from other railways which would benefit from the scheme but which would cost them nothing, refused, and construction commenced in November that year.

The line was built by over 6,000 navvies - mechanical diggers had not yet been invented - who laboured in some of the worst weather conditions England can provide. Huge camps were established to house the navvies, many of them Irish. The Midland Railway helped pay for scripture readers to counteract the effect of drunken violence in an isolated neighbourhood. The camps were complete townships featuring post offices and schools and had names such as Inkerman, Sebastapol and Jericho. The remains of one of these camps - Batty Green - where over 2,000 navvies lived and worked, can be seen near Ribblehead.

A plaque in the church at nearby Chapel-le-Dale records the workers who died - both from disease and accidents - building the railway. The death toll is unknown but 80 people died at Batty Green alone following a smallpox epidemic.

The engineer for the project was John Crossley, a Leicestershire man who was a veteran of other major Midland schemes.

The terrain traversed is some of the bleakest and wildest in England, and construction was halted for months at a time due to frozen ground, snowdrifts and flooding of the works. One contractor had to give up as a result of underestimating the terrain and the weather - Dent Head has almost four times the rainfall of London.

The line was engineered to express standards throughout - local traffic was secondary and many stations were miles from the villages they purported to serve. It reaches a summit of 1,169 feet (356 m) at Ais Gill, north of Garsdale. To keep the gradients down to no steeper 1 in 100 (1%), a requirement for fast running using steam traction, huge engineering works were required and even then the terrain imposed a 16-mile (26 km) climb from Settle to Blea Moor, almost all of it at 1 in 100, and known to enginemen as ‘the long drag.'.

14 tunnels and 22 viaducts were needed. Soon after the crossing of Ribblehead viaduct, the line enters Blea Moor tunnel, 2,404 m long and 152 m (500 ft) below the moor, before emerging again on to Dent Head viaduct. The summit at Ais Gill is still the highest point reached by main line trains in England.

Dent Head viaduct was built between 1869 and 1875 from massive blocks of Dent marble, and it crosses over the quarry that produced it. The owners of the quarry, Dent Marble Works were paid £1300 in compensation for disruption to their business.

Dent Head Viaduct is one of the most impressive structures on the line. It is 30 m (100 ft) high, 182 m long, 10 arches wide and 350 m (1,150 ft) above sea level.

Dent Station is Britain's highest mainline station, and is unusual in that it is situated four miles away and 183 m ( 600 ft) higher than the actual village of Dent.It is listed Grade II. To the Northeast of the station is a matrix of snow fences created from old railway sleepers which were erected to try and keep snow off the tracks. Unfortunately these were not always successful and in the winters of 1947 and 1963 Dent Station became heavily snow bound. It is now avaialble as holiday accommodation.

Between the two stands Arten Gill Viaduct which was constructed in 'Dent marble' - a dark limestone with high fossil content. It has eleven almost semi-circular segmented arches, which span 13.7m (45 ft) each and have a radius of 7m. At its highest point, it carries the rails at 35.7 m (117 ft) above water level.

The viaduct's piers are tapered, with prominent springings for the arches. Two sets of widened piers, which are designed to prevent progressive collapse should one of the arches fail, divide the viaduct into sections of two, three and six spans. The foundations of several of the piers are sunk 16.8m below the river bed onto bed rock. The parapets are of solid masonry and the viaduct is 201m long. The date "1875" can be seen on the arch to the north of Arten Gill.

This viaduct is most impressive on the skyline, particularly when approached from below along a rough farm track up the side of the hill from Stone Houses, half way between Dent Head and Cowgill.

In the village of Dent there is a Heritage Museum with many interesting objects collected from the area and illustrating life in this remote location.




Abbott, Stan and Whitehouse, Alan The line that refused to die. Hawes: Leading Edge. (1994) [first published 1990]ISBN 0-948135-43-3

Baughan, P. E. The Midland Railway North of Leeds. (1966)

Biddle, Gordon, Britain's Historic Railway Buildings, Oxford University Press, ISBN-10: 0198662475 (2003)

Biddle, Gordon & Nock, O.S.,
The Railway Heritage of Britain : 150 years of railway architecture and engineering, Studio Editions, ISBN-10: 1851705953 (1990)

Dunstone,D. For the Love of Trains: The Story of British Tram and Railway Preservation. ISBN 07110 3301 6 (2007)

Jenkinson, David. Rails in the Fells. ISBN 0 9005 8653 2(1973)

Lambert, Anthony. Settle and Carlisle. ISBN 0 75252 631 6 (1997)

Towler, J. The Battle for the Settle & Carlisle. Platform 5 Publishing, Sheffield.  ISBN 1-872524-07-9 (1990)

Williams, F.S. Midland Railway (1875, reprinted 1968)

Opening Times:
The viaducts are visible at all times. The station is privately owned. The Museum is open daily.

How To Find:
By road: On an unclassified road off the B6255.


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